Policy changes proposed by the governor are intended to lower energy costs, but some provisions are opposed by clean-energy advocates and solar panel installers.
By Tux Turkel, Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald news story
AUGUSTA — No dramatic changes are likely this year in a state law that compensates homeowners with solar-electric panels for their power generation, but other provisions in a far-reaching energy bill submitted by Gov. Paul LePage remained undecided Wednesday, after more than two hours of testimony before the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.
At issue is a set of policy changes initiated late in the session by the governor aimed at lowering energy costs. A few were in a bill that drew opposition from clean-energy advocates and solar installers, who said the measures would dismantle years of state policies that support renewable energy.
The committee took no action on the bill Wednesday. The panel’s co-chair, Sen. David Woodsome, R-York, said he hopes to hold a work session and vote on the bill Thursday. With time running out for the panel to wrap up for the session, lawmakers are under pressure to either kill the measure, adopt certain provisions or hold over the bill for consideration next year.
The solar law, called net metering, is opposed by utilities including Central Maine Power Co., which say solar panel owners don’t pay their fair share of the costs of providing power. But it’s a financial foundation for Maine’s growing solar industry and something that customers count on.
For now, though, the debate appears to be moving in a new direction. Patrick Woodcock, the governor’s energy director, effectively took net metering out of the bill for now, when he said in his testimony that ongoing discussions among stakeholders and a pending directive from lawmakers could lead to an alternative form of compensation.
Still on the table, though, is a provision to repeal Maine’s renewable portfolio standard, a longstanding law that requires electricity suppliers to make up a percentage of their output from renewable generation and offers incentives to meet those goals. Almost all the incentives now are going to biomass plants in Maine, including boilers at paper mills. It costs ratepayers $14 million a year, but when spread out, only amounts to 60 cents a month on a home electric bill, according to the Public Utilities Commission.
A third part of the bill would have the effect of shifting the focus of long-term contracts at the PUC away from wind and other renewable generators.
During the testimony, several parties agreed that all of the provisions could be refined and updated to better reflect state policies. But in its present form, the bill was opposed by a wide range of interest groups, including the Maine Audubon Society, the Maine Council of Churches, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Maine Renewable Energy Association and the Industrial Energy Consumer Group. They were joined by solar installers, including ReVision Energy, Sundog Solar and Goggin Energy.